Russian diplomats expelled |

Russian diplomats expelled


WASHINGTON (AP) – The State Department ordered dozens of Russians to leave the United States in retaliation for Moscow’s use of FBI agent Robert Hanssen to steal U.S. secrets, a senior U.S. government official said Wednesday.

About six Russian diplomats were formally declared ”persona non grata,” and dozens of others were ”invited” to leave in a less formal manner that gives them more time to get out, the senior official said. The official discussed the politically sensitive matter on condition of anonymity.

Other U.S. officials, speaking earlier on condition of anonymity, said the Russians were suspected of being spies. One of these officials said fewer than 10 diplomats were ordered to leave the country, apparently in the first stage of the expulsions.

The Russian ambassador to the United States was summoned to the State Department on Wednesday and told by Secretary of State Colin Powell that the Russians had to leave. The official did not know how long the diplomats were given to leave the United States.

White House spokesmen refused to confirm the reports, referring questions to the State Department.

A Russian Embassy official also declined to comment.

The move is a reaction to the arrest last month of Hanssen, a counterintelligence officer charged with passing information to the Soviet Union and Moscow for 15 years. The United States alleges that Hanssen compromised extensive U.S. intelligence-gathering operations, including a tunnel dug beneath the Russian embassy in Washington.

Hanssen, 56, was a 25-year FBI veteran and counterintelligence expert. He is accused of giving Moscow 6,000 pages of secret U.S. documents since 1985 in exchange for than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds. He was arrested Feb. 18 after authorities said he dropped off a package of documents at a Virginia park for his Russian contacts.

CBS News said that nearly 50 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence agents have been ordered to leave. It said six Russians who allegedly picked up documents left by Hanssen in the park have already left the country.

A 100-page affidavit accused Hanssen of compromising, among other things, ”an entire technical program of enormous value, expense and importance to the United States government.”

Last week, the FBI said a press attache for the Russian Embassy who returned home last week may have been a spy. Vladimir Frolov, who cut his second tour of duty in the United States short when he abruptly left the country, told reporters he was returning home to join the Russian newspaper Izvestia.

The United States often expels diplomats after political conflicts and spy scandals.

The Reagan administration ordered 55 Soviet diplomats to leave the country in 1986. The move was partly in retaliation for Moscow’s expulsion of five U.S. diplomats. The Soviets also were ordered from the country to bring the Soviet embassy staff in Washington and consulate staff in San Francisco ”to parity” with the U.S. contingent in Moscow and Leningrad.

Last August, the United States expelled two Congolese diplomats in retaliation for Congo’s decision to expel two American diplomats. Congo expelled the Americans, saying they made statements that were inconsistent with their diplomatic role.

And a Cuban diplomat was taken into custody by U.S. authorities in February 2000 and flown out of the country on a government plane after he ignored a State Department demand that he leave the country on his own.

The diplomat was accused of helping a U.S. immigration official charged with spying for Cuba.

In December 1999, a Russian diplomat was expelled amid accusations that he picked up transmissions from a listening device in a government building where then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s office was located.

AP-WS-03-21-01 2115EST

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